Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, Barbarism Lite

According to the New Yorker’s Paul Kramer, here’s what A.F. Miller of the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment wrote in a letter to the Omaha World-Herald in May 1900 from the Philippines about the treatment of a prisoner taken by his unit: “Now, this is the way we give them the water cure. Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.”

One American was indeed finally brought to trial for the widespread use of “the water cure” in the Philippines at the turn of the previous century as the Filipino insurgency was suppressed. Captain Edwin Glenn, a judge advocate, supervised such a torture session. For this, he was convicted and sentenced to a “one-month suspension and a fifty-dollar fine.” He retired from the Army in 1919 as a brigadier general.

Many were the American defenses of “the water cure” back then, including the blunt suggestion that, on racial grounds, Filipinos were not “owed the ‘protective’ limits of ‘civilized warfare.'” Many have been the defenses of waterboarding and other forms of torture in the Bush years — among them, the all-but-racially based suggestion that America’s enemies (you know who) don’t deserve to be dealt with according to the laws of civilization, including the Geneva Conventions. Then and now, a relatively small but hardy crew of Americans, in and out of government, protested, wrote, and struggled against such practices.

In our time, they have included Karen J. Greenberg, co-editor of the monumental Torture Papers and a Tomdispatch regular, who writes below about the latest defense of “the water cure,” this time by the Justice Department’s Stephen Bradbury. Another member of this crew is Scott Horton who, at his eloquent Harper’s Magazine blog, No Comment, pointed out recently that Bradbury’s testimony before a congressional committee represented but the first of a Valentine’s Day torture trifecta. Among those who stepped up to the plate that day was the President himself who defended waterboarding in an interview with the BBC this way: “To the critics, I ask them this: when we, within the law, interrogate and get information that protects ourselves and possibly others in other nations to prevent attacks, which attack would they have hoped that we wouldn’t have prevented?”

With that in mind, enter the torture museum and history be damned. Tom

Visiting the Torture Museum

Barbarism Then and Now

By Karen J. Greenberg

Sometimes a little stroll through history can have its uses. Take, as an example, the continuing debate over torture in post-9/11 America. Last week, Stephen Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, testified before the House Judiciary Committee about waterboarding. In defending its use, Bradbury took a deep dive into the past. He claimed that the CIA’s waterboarding of at least three of its prisoners bore “no resemblance” to what torturers in the Spanish Inquisition had done when they used what was then called “the Water Torture.”

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


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